Every year nearly 149 million people around the world celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day in honor of the Patron Saint of Ireland. Unfortunately what we are celebrating has more to do with fiction rather than fact.

Most importantly, his name wasn’t Patrick and he wasn’t even Irish.

Maewyn Succat, his real name, was born sometime around 390 A.D. in Roman Britain, probably in Wales.

His father was Calpurnius a Roman-British cavalry officer and a deacon. His grandfather was Potitus, a priest.

Despite his family involvement in the church, Maewyn was a non-believer.

At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Gaelic Ireland by Irish pirates.  

He spent six years in Ireland as a slave. While he was enslaved he worked as a shepherd and strengthened his spirituality through prayer. Eventually, he converted to Christianity.

Maewyn ran away from his master and boarded a ship to escape from slavery. Eventually, he made his way back to his family where he became a cleric. For several years he studied at a monastery in Auxerre where a bishop of the Western Church ordained him as a priest.

The exact date of his name change is not known but he begins to refer to himself as Patrick in his own writings.

Patrick returned to Ireland and spent twenty years traveling all across the island baptizing and converting the Celtic Pagans to Christianity, establishing monasteries, schools and churches.

He died in Ireland on March 17 in 461 A.D.

It was through the persistent efforts of Luke Wadding, an Irish Franciscan friar in Waterford, Ireland that in the early seventeenth century March 17 was made  Saint Patrick’s Day, an official Christian feast day.

It commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.

The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade took place in Boston in 1737. The first “official” parade was held in New York in 1762.

Parades in Ireland to celebrate the holiday didn’t occur until 1903 when Waterford held the first one. Dublin began having them in 1931.

Initially, Saint Patrick's Day was observed as a religious holiday, although he was never canonized, or declared a saint.

He is, however, venerated in the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches, the Old Catholic Church, and in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Since it was considered a religious holiday pubs and bars were closed making Saint Patrick’s Day a dry holiday. In 1970 when it became a national holiday in Ireland pubs have become the go-to spot to celebrate.

Over time the reason for the holiday has become less about Saint Patrick and what he did to convert the druids and more commercialized.

It is estimated that consumers will spend $5.6B on merchandise and alcohol while celebrating. Guinness drinkers around the world are expected to consume thirteen million pints and beer sales will increase 152.5%.

Finally, there are two very popular legends surrounding Saint Patrick. The first being that Saint Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Irish people about the Holy Trinity by using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

There is no evidence that Saint Patrick actually did this and the legend first appeared in 1726.

In reality, three was a significant number in the Pagan religion as there were, and still are, many triple deities worshiped.

Another popular legend attributed to Saint Patrick is that there are no snakes in Ireland today because he drove them all from the island as he was sweeping through converting the Pagans to Christianity.

Scientific research has proven that in fact there was never any snakes on the island, to begin with.

It is believed that Saint Patrick used the term “snakes” as a metaphor for the Pagans and their conversion to Christianity was what he meant when he referred to “driving them out of Ireland”.

Information for this article was gleaned primarily from Saint Patrick’s autobiographical account known as the ‘Confessio’.